Author Archives: Jack

This is what we came for

You don’t have to cruise Australia long before you start hearing about Lady Musgrave Island. Safe to say the pecking order of national obsession would be…well, fishing would have to be first and maybe Vegemite, then rugby, but if you’re going to fish, Lady Musgrave is the place to be. In many ways it reminds me of Minerva Reef which is also a lagoon but much bigger than Lady Musgrave which, unlike Minerva, also has a small island attached to one end of the reef. 

After a heavy provisioning run at Urangan Harbour, we and Blackwattle formed a convoy and with the light winds predicted, left for Lady Musgrave Island with plenty of time for an over night sail expecting some motoring in diminishing wind. Entering the famously tight and shallow pass into the lagoon had to be done during high tide with a lookout on the bow due to the many bommies that are scattered throughout the lagoon.

As soon as we cleared Fraser Island the wind filled in. Not a lot of wind but at just the right angle that Escape Velocity loves. Soon we were romping along at 7-8kts, which would put us at the tricky pass at 2:00 am. Not good. For a change we’re having a romping good sail and we have to shorten sail to slow down! Escape Velocity had different ideas about slowing down however. We turned up into the wind four times to shorten sail and finally had Marce’s Logo reef which exposes only the Manta Logo at the top of the sail and our 90 percent blade jib. At midnight change of watch I was instructed to average no faster than 4.5kts. So I started to spill most of the wind we had but she still was making 5-5.5kts. When EV gets in this mood she’s a force to be reckoned with. 

I could see Blackwattle on the chart plotter marked with an AIS purple triangle and they were having none of this slow down stuff, barreling along at 8kts and angling to go east over the top of Lady Musgrave, probably thinking to heave-to once they make the pass. Catamarans don’t like to heave-to but it dawned on me to angle up into the wind a bit, which added distance and slowed us down. Yes, that’s the ticket. Now I won’t have to endure off watches’ disapproving looks in the morning. 

By 8:30am, a little early for high tide, we were lining up the red and green gate markers at the pass which were quite confusing and looked nothing like our latest charts. Things often look confusing until you get in close to a pass. No, nothing matches up, it’s completely different but it looks like it’ll work. You quickly learn to read the colors of the water or you’ll soon come to grief as so many have in these parts. We’re looking for deep blueish turquoise with as little tanish or sand color as we can stand. There were over-falls with roiling water everywhere except in the narrowing pass, obviously hacked through the surrounding coral reef. Through another set of gates and our Ovitalmaps satellite photo warned of a large bommie that drys out at low tide, but now appeared as an ominous dark brownish color just below the surface and situated dead center like a sentinel guarding the glowing iridescent turquoise lagoon. 

Using the Ovital satellite shots on the iPad, we made our way over to where we wanted to anchor. Somewhat relieved to have the hook down, we noticed a sailboat aiming right at us. It was Impetuous Too, friends we first met in Fiji’s Blue Lagoon, who were just leaving after two weeks and hadn’t realized that we’d just arrived.  Even though we wouldn’t be able to spend time with them it was a great start to our stay at Lady Musgrave Island. 

In a few hours Blackwattle joined us and anchored a discreet distance away. Can’t wait to explore this incredibly beautiful place. Now this is what we came for.

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Do be careful

The closer we came to Wide Bay Bar the more extreme were the reactions whenever we mentioned that we were heading that way. You know, the eyes widen, brows arch, the lips purse and you get the old standby, “well, be careful” as if we’re not being careful. We always seem catch each other’s eye with a look that says you can’t be more careful than we’re already being. Can’t say it doesn’t have a cumulative effect though. 

Our new friends on Blackwattle seemed to take all this with a blasé attitude. At sundowners we’d found out that they were headed that way in the morning but because we’d need high tide to get out of Mooloolaba basin, down the Mooloolah River, and most especially over the shoaling shifting Mooloolah Bar we’d never make it to Wide Bay Bar by slack high tide or for that matter even in the daylight. The Blackwattles suggested overnighting at a roadstead anchorage called Rainbow Beach, twelve miles shy of Wide Bay Bar. We’ll follow you.

Negotiating the Mooloolaba bar in the morning caused the usual rise in blood pressure. After passing the dredger you turn hard left around the stone block jetty, running parallel to the beach and then think a few kind thoughts before turning right to head out into the Coral Sea. We kept pace sailing with Blackwattle until the breeze began to fail and we started motorsailing. When we came around Double Island Point headland we dropped sail and while we could see Blackwattle’s purple AIS triangle on our chart plotter, we couldn’t find her against the incredible vastness of Rainbow Beach’s surrounding high cliffs. 

After running for what felt like hours we saw them right in front of us. At sundown we exchanged the latest information and new GPS coordinates and backtimed our morning departure to arrive at the bar entrance on the right tide. We all agreed to be “careful.”

True to form, even though the conditions were quite benign, there were breaking waves on both sides of us as we made the hard left turn right on top of the GPS waypoint. Must be some kind of surf spot. Blackwattle had made it through there enough before us that they weren’t much help checking the GPS waypoints but I had made waypoints from the AIS as they made their way in on the chart plotter. Waypoints or no, it was still a long and impressive bar entrance. We decided to bypass Tin Can Bay and make for Garry’s Anchorage on Fraser Island, another fourteen miles up the incredibly shallow Great Sandy Straits which is really more of a kind of river/estuary. Anchor splashed and Sundowners on Blackwattle. Ah, the serenity. Life is good.

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Spending what we have not got

Bruce the mechanic showed up early which was a nice surprise and the now familiar routine of apparently all diesel mechanics began. Start her up, shut her down, start her up, shut her down. Right off he found a problem with the incredibly expensive Volvo alternator which involved a worn exterior case mount but he said he had a used Volvo alternator and he might be able to put our guts into his case and Bob’s your uncle. Next he did a full compression check and we passed. He puzzled over why the engine is smoking and pulled the injectors to get them tested. 

Next up was Mr. Sea Hunt, Adam the diver, with a perfectly new, shiny and smooth three bladed Volvo folding prop, which is now easily the shiniest thing on the boat. I’m more than a little familiar with the eccentricities and quirks of the Volvo three bladed folding prop and between Bruce and me we kept Adam on the straight and narrow. 

First he brought up what was left of the old prop and the mystery of why we lost two blades was readily apparent. While the blades are held in with large heavy stainless pins passing through the hub and the base of the blades, the pins are kept from sliding out with a #8 allen head bolt screwed into the hub but standing proud of the hub. The head of one bolt had sheered off which allowed two pins to drop out, along with the blades. Ouch. No idea what caused the bolt to sheer but after one and a half times around the world I guess we can’t complain. We’re just glad it happened when and where it did instead of in a remote area or on a dangerous lee shore. It’s only money, right?

At the end of the week Bruce returned with our alternator and injectors. One injector was bad which could account for some of the problems we’re having but instead of having to buy three new injectors he found three nozzles at a fraction of the cost. All and all, for this motor, not too bad. Whether the problems are fixed we don’t know. 

Our last day was a comedy of errors having to do with U.S. propane fittings verses Aussie propane fittings on which I refuse to elaborate. 

We pulled away from the dock by ourselves, pirouetted and our incredibly expensive mini refit was brought to a close. We ran up to the anchorage just past the highway bridge dropped the hook, looked at each other and said, “I wonder how we’re going to pay for this?” We dug out the good rum.

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No happy hour

It’s never been far from my mind these last few days. As moving day approaches, if I’m reading the diagram the marina sent us correctly, we’ll have to enter a narrow gap between two piers at the marina, staying under control through nasty swirling currents, heading straight toward shore passing about six slips lined with luxury yachts, execute a ninety degree turn to the right against the thrust of the starboard engine which is trying to turn Escape Velocity to the left. Trying to stop EV using the only operating engine would just spin her to the right but definitely not stop her. I knew the key to keeping this from going all pear shaped would be speed. Enough to get the rudders to bite but as little as possible because I can’t really stop her. The dockmaster suggested running the hour and a half down river the day before and anchoring across from the marina to wait for slack tide because of some wicked currents they have there but I just didn’t want to add still more tricky maneuvering. It’s shallow down there and from a dead stop it takes EV an alarmingly long time to get the rudders to bite with just one engine.

I once helped a friend on a catamaran with one inoperable engine shift from one mooring ball to another further away from a little steel sloop that was whacking them. It took everything we could muster, using our 15hp Yamaha on our dink as a tug and his one engine to keep her off the other boats. It took 45 minutes of harrowing near misses to get her secured to a nearby ball. This is what is going through my mind as we up anchored with plenty of extra time to get to the marina at slack tide. It was a beautiful sunny morning without much wind and I was able to manage our unhappy starboard engine. 

Too soon the moment of truth arrived. After a deep breath I turned into the gap between the piers feeling the swirling currents slewing EV about and reduced throttle. I needed to make the 90 degree turn with as little throttle as possible. She made 45 degrees of that turn and stalled there so I reversed the engine which spun the bows to the right that put them very near the dock and with delicate touch of forward throttle we were next to our slip. I would have never taken that bet. 

Rivergate Marina is nice but expensive, located in an industrial area so no tiki bars, restaurants, or grocery stores. They were good about courtesy rides but really…no happy hour. And I needed it.

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Nothing but dominos

Saturday came and so did the diver. We had talked ourselves into an easy fix, a line wrap, we hoped. We wondered how Adam the Diver would be able to see in this opaque mess of a river. His boat driver told us he’d have about a foot of visibility.

Adam’s black balaclavaed head broke the murky surface — he’d only been down for 60 seconds — and he flipped up his mask and asked, “How many blades are you supposed to have on this propeller?” 

This can’t be good, I thought. “Three,” we said in unison. 

“Well, you’ve only got one now.” We stood looking over the side, stunned.

“You’ll never find them here,” Adam offered helpfully, and went back under to replace our sacrificial zincs.  

Did I mention they’re very expensive blades, cast in bronze in Italy? Now, where did I last see those spares wrapped in a plastic bag? A previous owner had replaced them with the blades that are now at the bottom of the Brisbane River. After tearing up most of Escape Velocity we found them. Turns out there’s a good reason they were replaced. The gears were worn and they’d only really be good for an emergency. 

We consulted Bruce the mechanic and reluctantly made the cruising kitty-busting decision to order a whole new propeller. There goes our trip to Darwin, M said. 

Bruce started wading through the Volvo number trail to find what we hoped would be the correct replacement and found that in a week he could have it here in Brisbane. It would have helped if we’d thought to have the diver remove the hub and the remaining blade while he was down there. Otherwise we have no way of knowing why the blades fell off or if the hub is damaged or reuseable. Plus nothing beats having the old part in your hand when ordering a replacement. 

We can’t start work on the starboard engine while we’re at anchor because without a propeller on the port engine we’ll be completely disabled. Nothing but dominos. The marina Bruce and Adam need to work out of is very expensive. You can just hear those dominos topple over one at a time. 

So we’ll stay put for a few more days then up anchor and motor an hour and a half downriver and somehow maneuver EV into a slip at Rivergate Marina on one smoking engine. Hopefully Bruce can tear into the starboard engine and finish just as the new prop arrives keeping the marina fees to a minimum. What with the basic Double-Up Theory of marine expense planning in effect we should probably go up an increment and double that. So for example what should take one day will take two weeks, $100 becomes $2000. See how this works? It takes no time for the toppling dominos to become deafening. 


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 Any landing you can walk away from

Have I mentioned how thin the water is around here in Southport? Our goal was to stage Escape Velocity for our assault on Brisbane, pronounced Brisbin down here, so it was anchor up at first light, whereupon we promptly ran aground in soft sand. After some judicious application of reverse thrust by Yours Truly our happy ship was off, wary of a less than auspicious start. We were in for another day of more motoring. After tip-toeing through some incredibly thin water in a circuitous course running from marker to marker, even though we’d already discovered that that was not a guarantied depth but more of a hopeful Aussie depth, we found our anchorage for the night. It was a little rolly but it offered modest protection from ocean swell and wind behind Potts Point. 

At first light we were back on the throttles winding our way towards Moreton Bay, on the lookout for the ship channel into heavily industrialized Brisbane River. We could see the huge container cranes far before we could decipher the entrance markers to the channel. 

This is a busy port so we had to dodge three massive cargo ships and attending tugs just on the way in. Finally we passed the turning pool for the large ships but it seemed they turned the river over to zig zagging catamaran ferries running here and there at high speed. I found it impossible to anticipate where they were heading next. This is the kind of river that meanders around in a snake like fashion, sometimes tight and narrow and at others, wide and lazy. Slowly the tall buildings of downtown Brisbane hove into view. 

I confess the energy of a city draws me in and finally we could see the mooring poles of the city marina. Even with the currents swirling we still decided to edge into the mooring pole field and give it a go. After all this is not our first rodeo so we fancied a spot of pole dancing. The approach looked good and just as I slipped the port engine into reverse for a critical pivot move the whole boat started to shudder violently, but no thrust. I tried again with the same result. Let’s see, I have swift swirling currents, I’m partially stuck between two poles, and I only have one engine 21 feet from the other! Somehow the current pushed EV’s stern just enough to clear the rear pole and I leaped at the opportunity to spin the boat out of there. I could turn to the left reliably but anything to the right required a lot of speed and space. We were forced to try to anchor in a crowded anchorage with limited maneuverability. It took a couple of tries but we got the hook down with out hitting anything. 

Medicinal dark and stormies were called for due to the condition of the skippers knees! The first one went down quickly and as I tilted the backup, I could have sworn that I heard a didgeridoo across the river at Kangaroo Point. It turns out that it wasn’t just the rum. Dozens of painted aboriginal people were chanting and dancing, blowing white powder into the air, playing didgeridoos and that other thing that they whirl around in a circle. 

That’s pretty cool, but then I noticed several people rapelling down the palisades above Kangaroo Point, past the sheer rock face used to quarry ballast for ships in the past. People were strolling along the National Botanical Park right in front of us. I think I’m going to like it here.

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 Straight outa Pittwater

Well, straight in the sense that we eased mooring lines and motored down Broken Bay to BarrenJoey nestled behind the protection of the light house cliffs. All night long the sweep of that famous light beam played across the headlands and hills of lower Broken Bay. The plan was to leave at first light in an attempt to avoid that famous washer machine effect at the entrance to the Tasman Sea. For a change, it worked. 

On the way down in December we made our southing in large chunks but heading north is a different kettle of fish. For one thing, west winds are rare and anything with east in it is troubling because our general heading will be northeast. South winds work but bring cold Antarctic air. 

There are several day hop stops along the way but most come with a caveat. Almost all of them are river bar crossings. So what? River bar crossings are usually narrow entrances into rivers or estuaries that have deposited enough material on the bottom to make them unusually shallow which causes ocean swell to rear up into treacherous steep surf sending nasty combers across the bar. Normally one does not want to find oneself anywhere near anything like this. However, on occasion, you’ll find the need to cross a river bar. So the thing is that the shallow bit moves around day by day, moment to moment really, while the authorities try to mark the shifting pass over the bar but you really can’t rely on anything being quite up to date. Current, tides, and wind strength and direction are critical factors in the calculus for successful bar crossing.

Our story, Dear Escapees, does not start at BarrenJoey, Pittwater, but rather in November 2014 at the famous entrance to the Bahia Del Sol estuary, El Salvador. After rerigging in Costa Rica and being kicked out twice, we decided that a more convivial and welcoming atmosphere was called for while we would wait out for the right season to cross the Pacific. We were assured by Ken and Julie on Kia Ora that Bill’s place in Bahia Del Sol was the perfect venue for waiting something out, but you’ll have to cross the bar. When we contacted Bill for details he said, “Call us when you get close and we’ll guide you through.”

We were a little shell-shocked by the time we got within VHF distance of Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador, after having to seek shelter from fearsome Papagayo winds and snagging a couple of fishing lines and nets off the coast of Nicaragua. It was early in the morning and off in the distance, seemingly mixed in with the surf and foam, we could see Bill in a high horsepower panga with a local River bar expert who we learned later checks on the elusive passage through the bar several times a day. Our instructions were to lineup right behind his boat and when he says to hit it, immediately slam both throttles to full power and follow them across the bar. 

We made it. Not without drama, but we made it. By the time my heart slowed down enough to focus I hadn’t seen where they had gone. Bill was waiting at the marina with drinks. Nice touch.

It turns out that having experienced a scary river bar crossing doesn’t ease one’s mind when faced with another. As a matter of fact we find that the anticipation makes it worse so we decided to only do bays and the easier ins and outs. That was until you find out that on the Eastern coast of Australia most of the little anchorages are river bar crossings. They have another saying down here and it goes something like, “Pump up, Princess!” Not sure what it’s supposed to mean. Due to the rarity of favorable winds and when you weigh your options you ask yourself do you want to cross a river bar or do you want to get slammed in some kind of wind squash zone? I’ll take the bar for 20, Alex. 
Timing is everything in the river bar crossing game. Well, not everything but it’s a lot. Marce as usual took on the additional tasks of what has become known as Timing the Bar. I, as you, dear reader know by now, am more of a seat of the pants, gotta feel it, kinda boat jockey. So when nothing matches what you’ve read or been told I’m your man. Our first genuine Australian river bar crossing turned out to be Lake Macquarie where they’ve thrown in my personal favorite for bonus points, lining up transit poles so you don’t go aground. I can never find them on shore so it’s not my strong suit. Combers threaten but decline our challenge and we slip right by, only troubled by turbulent water that endeavors to spin us around. It’s very shallow in spots but we get in safely and score a coveted free pink umooring ball. I pretty much follow our chart plotter track going out but with a few refinements.

A large pod of our very wet, air breathing brothers, attaches themselves to EV and we are entertained for hours. Dolphins are not an everyday occurrence on EV.

Between Port Stevens and Forester/Tuncurry Marce spotted our first two humpbacks after one spy hopped near us. Thrilling. We’re beginning to get the hang of this day hop thing and for a change there’s no pressing schedule other than to get up to fine weather and warmth await us up North in Queensland. It’s hard to put together more than a few days decent weather so it looks like day hops, slow progress, and river bars for Yours Truly.

The New South Wales coast is beautiful with mountain ranges that not infrequently terminate as soaring headlands with miles of scrubby flat sandy areas connecting one headland to the next rocky outcropping. We missed this coastline on the way down because there is a river of water running south at 2 to 5 kts. but you need to stay miles away from the coast to catch the free ride on the current. When you’re only going 5 to 6kts. this is huge. However, payback is a bitch and when you’re heading back up north the Aussies say you need to keep one foot on the beach just to try to keep out of the swift south flowing current.

Another day’s run from Trial Bay where we had to reprise our “anchoring in a squall,” skills, brought us to Coffs Harbour, our first Aussie landfall and more humpbacks close by. As big as they are we’re finding it difficult to photograph them! The next hop would push us to our maximum unless Aeolus the God of wind cooperates. 

At false dawn we were already motoring out of the mouth of Coffs harbor, following the flashing red and green markers out into the Tasman Sea. Aeolus is a bit of a trickster so instead of sailing in 10-12kts from the Southwest, we found 15 on the nose and hard choices wether to cut between reefs and islets strewn about in our path or head out for safety but fall into the clutches of that damn current. 

We really had to push to make it to the Clarence River so it was serpentine through the rocks while both engines labored, thrummed and placing full faith in the accuracy of our chart plotter charts, a belief I really didn’t share. Several Humpback sightings broke up the tension and once again the sunny weather held. We found the entrance to the Clarence River right on time as both engines were on the edge with heat prostration! This is a place with seriously thin water and transit poles and markers are all over the place. Strangely the Estuary is divided down the middle with I guess spoil and rocks, Iluka to the right and the more resort-like Yamba to the left. We knew a big storm was bearing down on us so we chose the jetty-walled, manmade anchorage at Iluka nestled in a sleepy river town with fishing boats lining the river front. The anchor caught in the shallow harbor and a small pod of dolphins swam by to welcome us. I noticed a nice dinghy dock and we knew we’d get stuck here for a few days with the approaching storm, so we dinghied ashore and found a grocery store. Nice little town. Waiting for weather always goes better with potato chips.

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That sinking feeling

The pressure on Yours Truly had been building for quite some time. As crew repeatedly informed me, all the skippers are doing it, nothing could be easier and it’s free! What could go wrong? The list boggles the mind, but I’m man enough to know when it’s time to give up. Tomorrow morning I was resigned to doing something that I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to avoid. I would pilot our beloved home Escape Velocity over to a shallow spot on the beach and run her aground. Well, with any luck at all it would be more controlled than that but that’s pretty much what it adds up to. The plan was to hold EV over the Golden Spot with anchors and chains and slowly sink down with the ebb tide until she was resting on the bottom of the bay. We call this careening which avoids expensive marinas so that bottom can be scraped, protective zincs can be replaced and even those with an excessive over abundance of energy can slap on anti fouling bottom paint. This golden spot had to be really shallow with only a meter and a half tidal range so we’d lose the anchor and backup to the, oh let’s just call it the GS. Things went pear-shaped pretty quickly when, as we fought to back up to the GS, the depth sounders jumped from the expected four feet to fourteen feet. No, no this won’t do. A fourteen foot hole could cause catastrophic damage, bad enough that when the tidal flood waters came back we just might stay on the bottom of the bay. Sounds like an old blues tune where the guy sinks to the bottom and drinks himself up dry! 

Now where was I?

This was pretty much reasons 1 through 7 on my list of why we shouldn’t do what sailors call careening. After three tries, unsure if the problem was technical or if there really were unlikely deep holes in an otherwise benign shallow beach, we decided to poke around in CatNip with a boat hook. So it was back to good old number “14” mooring ball and a fair amount of good natured ribbing at sundowners that evening.

Now my Dutch was up. I don’t like it when my Dutch is up. I become determined, driven, and not the fun-loving guy you might think of me as, plus it can lead to…damage. The following day I found the new GS quickly and backed up until we felt that EV was aground! I hopped down into chilly water clear up to the thermometer, stumbled around to the front of EV where Marce was lowering our main anchor down into my waiting arms. It was a case of, yeah I have it/no I don’t have it kind of thing. You can’t imagine how difficult it was just to walk through this stuff and adding a fifty pound anchor and heavy chain made it nearly impossible. This is how we would later kedge EV off the beach, with any luck at all. Finally I gave a push to the thing, just missing my feet and wobbled back to the stern to run a stern anchor back farther up the beach. I was exhausted!
Now to await the ebb tide. Too soon I thought I’d better get started. I could see about a foot under the water line. It was tough scraping even with my heroic efforts in Blackwattle Bay. Every step threatened a lurch and fall back into the water. Hey, shouldn’t there be less water by now? We seemed to have sunk down into the soft bottom so instead of sitting proud of the bottom EV had sunk down into it, putting pressure on the saildrives. I couldn’t even see the propellers. That would be reason three of seven on my list of why we shouldn’t careen the boat. I had to lie down face first in the water and dig sand away from the blades just to scrape them. With Marce’s help we cleaned everything we could see. Periodically passers-by would come down the beach for a chat. I was a man on a mission so I just told them where the scrapers were. No takers. 

Eventually the flood waters caught up to us and it was time to collect all the broken scrapers and wait for Escape Velocity to swim again. As I climbed the swim ladder I thought my god we haven’t taken one photograph. All I would have to do, Dear Escapees, is climb up into the cockpit, grab the camera, climb back down and stagger across the rapidly flooding soft muck without falling into the water with the camera, take the snap, safely wade back to the swim ladder and climb back up into EV. 

I wasn’t able. You’ll just have to take my word for it.


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Escape from The Honest Lawyer

We managed to quit the Honest Lawyer Country Pub and Accommodation without incurring penalty or lawsuit, despite their insisting that we sign a full page wavier of our rights. However this was not my only concern. Today’s route out of Nelson on the Tasman Bay promised a healthy diet of mountain switchbacks, cliff precipices, and fabulous views from on high. Certain crew of the Toyota have had their nerves tweaked once too often in New Zealand’s glorious mountains to sit quietly by while Yours Truly skillfully carved the curves of northern New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong, the roads are by-and-large well-paved, engineered, and even sport the occasional odd guardrail but, well let’s just leave it at some were Not Amused and voiced much supportive correction.

Picton, on the beautiful Marlborough Sound, is first seen directly from above as you carefully corkscrew down out of the highest mountains. Several fast ferries from the North Island were lined up looking anxious to get going. 

There were several scenic stops on the way to Blenheim but our main focus was on getting to the air museum with enough time to do justice to Sir Peter Jackson’s (yes the film director) collection of WWI airplanes. The Weta Cave people made several vignettes similar to the Gallipoli exhibit at Te Papa in Wellington. These guys really know how to do this stuff so we were pretty excited to see this one.

We’d heard about the Makana Chocolate Factory and as luck would have it, it was near by. Nothing soothes jangled nerves like chocolate!
Clever folks these Kiwis.

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When in Greymouth

Today’s agenda seems simple enough on paper. However, Kiwis like to combine tourism with a spot of exercise and after the steep long trek up to Fox Glacier we were taking no chances. An early start seemed prudent. From the car park we could see Franz Josef Glacier off in the distance nestled between twin peaks and it looked like it hadn’t receded as much as Fox Glacier, which is good news. 

The trek started through a beautiful forested path which tumbled down to a stark rock-strewn valley with stunning water falls showering down into a surprising full river of white water. 

The closer we got the more blue ice we could see as if the glacier was lit from within, glowing with an otherworldly blue light. Once you’ve seen this you’ll never forget it. I know I never will. 

Unusual signs began to pop-up as the second semi-permanent phase of the trek along the river bank established itself. More glowing blue ice could be seen as we crept closer toward the steeper meandering third section. In scenery this magnificent and at scale so huge, one seems so insignificant that it feels impossible for a human to walk up this valley to a glacier, as though you’d never get there, but get there we did. Unlike most of our adventures it’s not about the journey, it’s all about the allure, the pull of the blue ice. 

We began to see tiny helicopters shuttling smart people with an “E” ticket up to the top of the glacier to touch time itself. Such is the draw of the blue ice. 

You could while away hours in a kind of hypnotic trance staring up at it, but you won’t. Very cold air is funneling over the ice, down the valley right into your face. So you take your photos and head back down but every time you turn around to steal one last look you stumble on the rocks. 

The trek back down seems to take forever but you eventually get there too. Reluctantly you start the car and drive away, sneaking peeks of the ice as you negotiate the circuitous road out. 

We came down out of the mountains to the deep blue of the Tasman Sea and stopped at Hokitika beach which is chock full of a remarkable amount of driftwood. When we stopped for lunch we noticed every craftsman in town used the wood as their muse.

B&B’s are a bit of a crap shoot. In your mind’s eye (and the website photos) you’re seeing a cute little cottage on a hill, surrounded by a garden with a pergola. You could just as easily wind up with a gone-to-seed unheated creaky bungalow that smells like an old folks home. And what I think constitutes a hot home-cooked breakfast is open to interpretation. Mary met us at the door and we soon had our duffles lugged upstairs. 

When asked what there was to do in Greymouth she gave a little shrug under her pink jumper (dear Escapees you can read that as sweater) and said most of her guests go down to walk on the flood wall or maybe take in a movie at the multiplex. We found the grey in Greymouth descriptive. On the way to the multiplex in town Marce noticed a tiny store that had Croc sandals and one of M’s grand quests was retired. While ringing up the full retail, on the exorbitantly priced plastic crocs I took the opportunity to ask the sales clerk what there was to do in town and after a long pause she shrugged and said maybe a stroll on the flood wall or a movie. At the multiplex we found the usual Kiwi fare, car chases, car crashes, car explosions, Vin Diesel with a half page of dialogue. Pass.

Walking towards what we thought would be the flood wall we came upon the town’s entire history painted on the wall of the local newspaper. 

Up on the flood wall, basking in the golden setting sun, we found an interesting monument to Greymouth’s dead miners. Sobering. Some years were particularly deadly. Miners and floods, the connection escapes me. I didn’t have much more mileage left in me after two glacier treks in a row so we found a nice bar to soak…I mean celebrate another amazing day.


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